Tuesday, June 29, 2004

'Tis the season for weddings! I've traveled across the country to attend two in the past few weeks, and Jack is on her way to another this coming weekend. It's wonderful and joyous, but a bit tiring, I must say. I spent a brief weekend in Ohio, celebrating the marriage of a dear friend who became my pen pal 12 years ago and who I just met face to face at my own wedding six months ago; and then Odious and I took a week off to fly to Oregon for the wedding of another friend who worked with us for a short time last year. After a few days in Eugene for the wedding, where we had a lovely time and met some marvelous people, we headed up to Portland to scope things out and take a quick vacation. Besides eating at some fabulous restaurants (I'm not so upset about leaving Santa Fe now!), visiting the Western Culinary Institute (which I will attend starting in January), wandering through the beautiful Rose Garden (where I was thrilled to see the Rose Music fountain from Virginia Euwer Wolff's The Mozart Season!), and getting ourselves hopelessly lost amid the tangle of one-way streets and mysterious exits, we also spent some happy hours in the world's largest bookstore.

Powell's is also called the City of Books, and takes up an entire block in downtown Portland, as well as spilling over into a number of offspring stores across the city. It is a wonderful place. We spent most of our time in the science fiction/fantasy section, which is roughly a quarter the size of our local Borders store, with a brief foray into children's, and that took nearly three hours. Of course every shelf had to be combed carefully to avoid missing anything, since they stock used and new books together, and an out-of-print treasure was often hiding innocently amongst current bestsellers. We walked away with a huge stack of finds, among them a signed first edition James Branch Cabell, Tasha Tudor's A Doll's Christmas, a collection of folk tales by Richard Adams, and The Essential Bordertown. Getting them all home was interesting, especially since that was not the only bookstore we visited--at a hidden basement shop in Eugene that stocked mostly used philosophy and theology, we walked away with an armful of Chesterton, the Schaeffers, and Jacques Ellul.

So as you can see it was a highly successful trip, and I'm certainly looking forward to moving to Portland in the fall. In the meantime, however, I'm going to enjoy being home and back to a somewhat normal schedule.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

After reading a Writer's Digest special edition magazine about writing for children, I've decided that I really need to get back into that sort of writing. I've always enjoyed it, and for a long time intended to be a children's writer, but I haven't written anything in that vein for a while. Then I had an idea that Odious and I should write a children's fantasy novel together. We haven't yet decided what it should be about, but in preparation I started reading and rereading some children's fantasy (research is always important!). I love children's books so much--after reading them it seems pointless to bother with "adult" literature. Anyway, so far I've discovered a couple of excellent reads.

I'm already going to have to reread Peter Dickinson's The Ropemaker, because I started it while babysitting and consequently was interrupted too many times to absorb the beginning very well. Once I was able to settle down with it, however, I gobbled it down voraciously. The story is fascinating--a young girl named Tilja must go with her grandmother to discover why the magic is leaving their forest at home, and on the way they learn something quite unusual about Tilja that allows them to overcome all obstacles in their path. The characters are well-defined and interesting, and the writing crisp and clear. Highly recommended.

The unicorns in The Ropemaker got me inspired to reread The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge, which has long been a favorite of mine. The writing style is wonderfully flowery and verbose, with a dramatic flair that always delighted me. It suits this charming story perfectly, and is done with a masterful hand. Maria Merryweather is an orphan who goes to live with her cousin Sir Benjamin at the family manor, which has long been under a curse due to the quarrelsome nature of the Merryweathers. With the help of Robin the shepherd boy, the godly Old Parson, a well-spoken dwarf named Marmaduke Scarlet, the children of the village, and a menagerie of animals (who all seem to have a touch of magic), Maria charms the frightening Black Men who dominate the forest, reunites two long-separated couples, and solves the mystery that perpetrated the curse years ago. A truly delightful book.

I started reading Protector of the Small: The First Test yesterday afternoon, and found myself unable to put it down until I'd finished it. A long time ago I'd read Tamora Pierce's first book of Tortall, Alanna, and quite enjoyed it, though until recently I didn't know she'd written anything else. Turns out she's fairly prolific, and is working on a new series called Protector of the Small. I'm going to have to go to Borders today and get the rest of the books! Ten years have passed since the proclamation that girls may train to be warriors as well as boys, before ten-year-old Keladry of Mindelan, who has been trained since childhood in the Yamani martial arts, announces her desire to become a warrior. At the request of the master of the academy, she is put on a year's probation, to ensure that she will be able to keep up with the boys and prove her ability. It proves to be the most difficult year of her life, but through sheer determination and the stoicism learned from the Yamanis, she manages to complete the first test and receive an invitation to return.

I also read Cornelia Funke's The Thief Lord, which didn't impress me much. The story was too disjointed and confused, with some things that turned out a little too conveniently to be believable. Hopefully her newest book, Inkheart, will be better. Right now I'm rereading the third Harry Potter in preparation for the movie, and it's as good as I remembered it.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

I started reading The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath on our honeymoon (yes, Odious thought that was weird, too), but the only thing I found depressing was that the volume began with her journal from when she was eighteen years old. That a teenager could write with such insight and grasp of character, and provide such beautiful descriptions and pictures of her life made me feel highly unaccomplished. But then, as usual, I got sidetracked with other books for a few months. Then I watched the recent movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow, which was terribly disappointing. I felt the movie gave no background or reasons for what Sylvia did, and it focused on her jealousy of her husband and his consequent affairs, with little attention paid to her work and writings. The IMDB gives one of the working titles as "Ted and Sylvia", which would have made more sense; because it's just called "Sylvia", one expects more of a biography.

So I went back to the journals in order to gain a better understanding of what happened in her life, and what caused her to commit suicide. Unfortunately the last two journals, covering the last three years of her life, are either missing or destroyed, so the volume ends with a cheerful account of their life and neighbors in Devon, England. However, I did quite enjoy reading the whole thing, except the parts that devolved into random thoughts and fragments, and found it a very interesting look into her personality. She was extraordinarily driven to be successful, often making lists of ways to move up in the world and spend more time writing, so that she comes off as rather narcissistic. I can sympathize, however, since my own journals include similar injunctions; sometimes one needs a good browbeating, and who better to give it than oneself?

About halfway through the journals, I bought an edition of her selected poems so that I could read the ones she referenced, and that was also illuminating. I don't particularly care for her poetry, especially the early works that seem a little too obfuscatory, but there is some beautiful imagery as well as wonderfully skillful scansion. I'd like to read more of her prose (other than The Bell Jar), to see if it's as well-written as certain of her journal entries.